Opening Lines: Week 17

The Patriots-Dolphins game in Week 17 is currently off most boards pending further news on how many snaps New England starters are likely to play after locking up homefield advantage throughout the playoffs last week.

History offers a little bit of insight on how the Patriots might approach this game. Last year in Week 17, the Patriots had clinched the division and faced a meaningless game against the Texans. Coach Belichick opted to play his starters on defense for most of that game, and he had Brady on the field for all but two drives. The team’s leading rusher (the oft-injured Laurence Maroney, who spends less time at work than most DOT workers) was held out of the game to get some rest. After the game, Belichick said that he did not make a decision on how much starters would play prior to the game, opting instead to let game circumstances dictate the number of snaps his starters would be on the field.

With the Patriots already clinching a bye for the first week of the playoffs this year, I think we’ll see the Pats take a similar approach in Week 17. Anybody who is hurting right now (that’s about half of the starting defense) will probably see a limited number of snaps. If the game is a blowout in the first half, the Pats will probably rest most or all of their starters. If the game is close, many of the starters could end up playing most or all of the game. That presents a serious problem for the folks who are trying to figure out the betting line.

The Dolphins should have plenty of motivation with both Chad Henne and Tony Sparano likely playing for their jobs. They’ll also be out for revenge after the 41-14 beatdown New England handed them earlier this year. Miami’s last four games have been decided by a touchdown or less. It’s also important to keep in mind that New England is thin on the defensive line, and Miami would prefer to keep the ball on the ground. All of these factors add up to a game that could be closer than these teams’ records might suggest.

I think the Patriots will open as modest favorites of around -4 or -5. I would back the Patriots at -4, but anything higher than that would steer me toward Miami.

Other Lines I Like This Week

Rams (-2) at Seahawks

I’m loving this road dog like Rex Ryan loves feet. Wait, is that really the first Rex Ryan foot joke on Foxboro Blog? I think it is! Haha! Leave it to me to “toe the line,” right? OK, I’m done making fun of Rex now. I wouldn’t want someone to make fun of me if the shoe were on the other foot. Anyhow, the Seahawks are a much better home team, but it’s hard to trust a team that has been outscored 82-33 in their last two games and is down to their backup quarterback. St. Louis is 5-3 this season when facing a team with a QB that falls outside the top 20 in QB rating.

49ers (-6.5) vs. Cardinals

While the 49ers certainly still have QB issues to deal with, any option they will trot out there will be better than Arizona’s QB. I don’t get all of the praise being heaped on Skelton. In four games, he’s directed a total of just four TD drives against pliable defenses; a long TD pass on a completely blown coverage, a fake FG that resulted in a score and two runs against the league’s worst run defense. I think the betting public will be all over Arizona, but the betting public is usually wrong.

Chargers (-3.5) at Broncos

Tebow had a respectable showing in his first two starts, but he was facing a pair of defenses that have allowed opposing signal-callers to throw a combined total of 62 TDs this season. The Chargers have the league’s stingiest pass defense in terms of yards allowed, and they have allowed just 16 TDs with 14 INTs on the year. The Broncos defense can’t stop anyone, and the Chargers have one of the league’s highest-scoring offenses. I think the Chargers will win here by double digits.

2010 Record ATS 19-16-1

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